Monday, April 1, 2013

What Happens When the First Batter of an Inning Gets on Base?

Just as the swallows return to Capistrano every March 19th, there are comments that can be counted on in a sports broadcast:
1.  In football, when a team has a 2nd-and-1 situation, the color guy will state "This is a great passing situation," completely ignoring that since 2000, teams runs the ball 70% of the time in this situation. (click here to see for yourself for 2000-2012 seasons)
2.  In basketball, you'll hear "You can't coach height"--yes you can, or else every 7-footer would have outlandish success in the NBA. They don't.
3. When the leadoff hitter in an inning gets on base, you'll hear "It's tough on a pitcher when that leadoff hitter gets on." With play-by-play data, that notion is easily measured, and this chart shows how that has worked out in the 2010-2012 seasons:

To explain, in 2010 there were 43,441 inning leadoff plate appearances (the number varies due to whether home teams bat in the bottom of the 9th or if a game went into extra innings). Of those, the leadoff hitter hit a single 6,814 times and eventually scored 2,556 times, or 37.5% of the times the leadoff hitter got on base with a single. As would be expected, hitting a double significantly increases those chances to 58.5%, hitting a triple to 83.3%. Walks and hit-by-pitch are similar to singles (as would be expected), and in total, the announcer is pretty darn close to being correct—when 40+% of inning leadoff hitters that get on base eventually score, it IS difficult on pitchers.

I was personally surprised by the triple number—this means that around 15-20% of leadoff triples DO NOT SCORE, which to me is an astounding number. This means that teams AT WORST had two sacrifice opportunities and weren’t able to capitalize. I looked at individual teams to see if any teams jumped out, and nothing really did—Arizona (19 of 29, 65.5%) and Tampa Bay (22 of 22, 100%) were the extremes, but every other team was pretty much in that 80-85% range.

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